May 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Student journalists praised for coverage on campus Gaza war protests

A Columbia Journalism student with a "student press" sign in New York City in April 2023.

A Columbia Journalism student with a "student press" sign in New York City in April 2024. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Student journalists covering protests over the Israel-Hamas war at college campuses across the country have been impeded, threatened, arrested and assaulted.

Why it matters: With outside media access limited, their work has illuminated the events reminiscent of college protests against the Vietnam War and divestment demonstrations against South Africa's apartheid system.

  • The Pulitzer Prize Board, which is housed at Columbia University, praised the work of student journalists in a statement this week, recognized student journalists' tireless work "in the face of great personal and academic risk."
  • The Student Press Law Center, which praised the work being done, urged student journalists facing barriers in their reporting to contact its legal hotline.
  • Ireland Blouin, associate managing editor at The Daily Texan, told Axios the newspaper's reporters have had unique access to other students, even those with reservations about media coverage on the protests.
  • "Although we are journalists, [protesters] have been more willing to speak with us," Blouin said. "And we've been grateful for that because not all news outlets are able to get that right now."

Zoom in: At Dartmouth, two student journalists wearing press credentials were arrested Thursday as they were covering protests and other arrests,

  • The Dartmouth said its staff members were charged with criminal trespass and released on bail from the Lebanon Police Station.
  • It called for the charges against them be dropped and for Dartmouth President Sian Beilock to publicly apologize for their arrests.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, four student reporters were followed and assaulted with an irritant Wednesday while reporting on violence between pro-Palestinian protesters and counterprotesters.

  • The paper initially didn't say who the assailants were, but its news editor, Catherine Hamilton, later told the Los Angeles Times that one of them was a counterprotester who had previously verbally harassed her.
  • She said that the counterprotester had instructed the rest of the group to encircle the student journalists before spraying them with mace.

At Columbia, home to one of the country's premier journalism schools, student journalists were threatened with arrest if they exited a building to cover the New York Police Department's campus raid on Tuesday night, according to WKCR, the student radio station at Columbia.

  • Student journalists said they were barred from reporting as police were breaching a barricaded academic building that was taken over by demonstrators, while the radio station said the campus's general access restrictions severely limited its ability to report.
  • So many people tuned into WKCR's online stream at the time of the raid that it caused its website to briefly crash.

At California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, a campus-wide shutdown ordered by the administration has prevented student journalists from accessing radio facilities, according to Cliff Berkowitz, the faculty adviser for the student radio station, KRFH.

  • He said students grabbed remote broadcasting gear before the shutdown went into effect and have been broadcasting their coverage on protests and police actions from an undisclosed off-campus location.
  • "In the spirit of press freedom, these students worked to document a major national news event under difficult and dangerous circumstances and at risk of arrest," it said of Columbia students who covered arrests at the university on Tuesday night.

The big picture: The protests erupted after months of college administrators failing to coherently communicate their free speech policies, Axios' Eleanor Hawkins reports.

Catch up quick: So far, over 1,900 people have been arrested at pro-Palestinian protests on at least 43 college campuses across the country over the past two weeks.

  • Protesters in general are calling on universities to divest from Israel or companies that produce weapons or supplies for Israel's military and to end research agreements with Israeli institutions.
  • They have also called for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since October. The Hamas attack on Oct. 7 killed at least 1,100 people, with dozens of hostages still unaccounted for.

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